What is Whiteness? (a linked NYTimes article)

I don’t usually focus on the fact that race is a social construct, because I think it can detract from the reality of our institutionalized racism. That said, I think if we white people read things like this and talk about the ideas, we could start some important internal and personal changes that might add to a foundation we need to help make structural changes in our institutions.

If you look at the #blackoutday tag on twitter it becomes really clear how race is a social construct. There’s no real way to “look black.” From the article:

Eliminating the binary definition of whiteness — the toggle between nothingness and awfulness — is essential for a new racial vision that ethical people can share across the color line. Just as race has been reinvented over the centuries, let’s repurpose the term “abolitionist” as more than just a hashtag. The “abolition” of white privilege can be an additional component of identity (not a replacement for it), one that embeds social justice in its meaning. Even more, it unifies people of many races.

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another suggestion for white people who want to be not racist

After I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, my conversations about racism with my children (we’ve had such conversations since they were able to talk) were much more informed. I don’t believe in sugar-coating the real world, or glossing over truths that make some people uncomfortable. Of course, I do want my children to live in a world that feels safe and I want them to have hope. How deeply I go depends on the moment, how ready my daughters seem, and whether or not I can get myself to shut up.

One thing I tell my daughters is I will always prefer stating my opinion and offending rather than staying quiet when it’s a time for me to speak. They know I write a newspaper column and they know people don’t agree with things I say. In particular, I wrote a column about racism in the Bangor Daily News that starts with two overtly racist and ignorant statements. The intention was some shock value and that may have been a stylistic mistake. The column wasn’t a mistake, though.

Adding to the theme I set out in that first column and in “Ending racism: What White People Can Do,” I want to add this suggestion for white people who, like me, haven’t spent much time with people of color. As I’ve said in my columns and in this blog, I believe a lot of why interpersonal micro-level racism sticks around is because authentic communication is limited by white people’s desperate desire to be not racist.

Does this sound familiar? You feel mildly awkward talking to a person of color and are really angry at yourself for the mild awkwardness but you can’t figure out why you feel weird and you really want to not feel weird because you know there’s no reason to and no matter what you say or do you can’t seem to just be a regular person because you’re so self-conscious about your mild awkwardness and it all becomes a stuttering hyper-friendly over-the-top polite exchange. If it sounds familiar and you hate it, I have a suggestion for you:

Go to twitter, or other social media sites. Do this when you are alone. Search for the hashtag “blackoutday.” Spend time looking at the pictures. Then, look some more. See the variety of people? Look! There’s no awkwardness as you look, the pictures are there for anyone to see.

In the late 80s, I started learning that black and brown people can’t fix my own personal racism, and it’s not their job to tell me what I can or should do. What I do, instead, is look at my own racism—as I tell my daughters, I believe all white people are racist because we benefit from our systems that are inherently racist (we discuss prejudice and bigotry, too, which are different)—and work on it. After all this time, I was surprised that looking at the #blackoutday pictures was such an eye opener for me. The images are powerful and beautiful and surprising. (Tip: just look, don’t try to be involved in the hashtag. It’s not a white people thing.)

Get that awkward staring and fascination that you may experience and so desperately want to resist when you’re with another human being out in meat space. You can help yourself realize that there is an infinite number of different ways to “look black.” It can help you relax and just be with people of color without struggling to be not awkward, or “not racist.”

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jonesin’ for groceries, and some upsides

Today I needed cat food. I would be at the supermarket for that, so I also got fresh fruit. Walking through the store felt similar to what it felt like when I first got into recovery for alcoholism. It wasn’t that I was going to buy things, it’s that I felt really drawn to “I’ll just get one thing.” All of those “one thing” items were things I didn’t need. I didn’t buy those unneeded items, but it took concentration and mindfulness to focus on my task: buying fresh fruit and cat food.IMG_0269

One of the greatest benefits of these no groceries challenges I set out for myself is I start using what I already have in more efficient ways. We eat leftovers rather than forgetting them until they’ve gone bad. I’ve dug into the deep freezer and found plenty of yummy things, like apple cider I froze when it was fresh in the fall and many bags of par-boiled chard and kale from the summer’s garden. I’d forgotten what I’d put in that freezer. Little containers of Girl Scout Cookies, even! Yum.

So, once again, I’m finding that having a choice matters. I’m choosing to not go to the grocery store to “shop.” I’m choosing to not even step foot in the market unless there is an item we actually need. It’s educational and illuminating. It’s not terrifying, it’s liberating.

I’m reminded again and again of what a luxury it is to be making this choice. I’m still haunted by the overwhelming fear I felt in those days when I didn’t know how I would get groceries. I think of all of the people who are so deep in real poverty that the quicksand keeps pulling them back in no matter how hard they try to get out. I am so lucky that it was temporary, that I had resources—including SNAP/food stamps—to get through that time.

I’m eager to see how long I go without buying things we don’t need, those things that will be nice to have (I’ve got no bubbly water, but I’ll survive). The no groceries challenge is saving us money, making me grateful, and is certainly good for the environment. Plus, I found those Girl Scout cookies!

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no groceries challenge update

Today I went to the market. I got two apples, one blood orange, two avocados, Portland garbage bags, and toilet paper.

I had a $5 coupon from my last purchase (“cheat“) on the 20th, so my total spent was just over $16. The only items I actually needed were the trash bags and toilet paper.

IMG_0117IMG_0116We’re on target to stay away from the market for a while with the occasional exception of fresh fruit for my daughters.

As has happened every time, I’m learning a lot about how my mind works related to food and consumption.

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cheating (fake poverty)

Because it’s true that I’m only just on the edge of financial stability and saving money now will protect my stability in the future, this “no groceries challenge” isn’t fake. It’s not borne out of crisis, though, so it’s a little more like the SNAP challenge I criticized in the Bangor Daily News. So, I cheated.

Yesterday I bought a few bags of frozen fruit (buy $15, get $5 at Hannaford!) and yoghurt. When our fresh fruit runs out, we’ll still be able to make smoothies—until a few days ago, my daughters weren’t fans of smoothies, but that seems to’ve changed.

IMG_0058

No matter how my business is growing, I know I would not have come out of that situational poverty without the support of my ex-husband and also gifts from my family. I’m an example of how unavoidable life circumstances and personal choices can lead to poverty. I’m also an example of how family background can make all the difference in getting out of the hole. My great uncle left me money that I used to buy a nearly-new car, for example. Car failure crisis averted.

The first time I did my no groceries challenge, I did it because I had been in a position where I didn’t have the money to buy groceries. Times are better, but the near-trauma of that experience looms large. I never want to go back there.

 

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